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Constance Alexander: One small step toward history in the making; now, how about creating a better world

If it weren’t for my brother-in-law, I would have missed the moon landing in 1969. I was spending the summer with my sister Jeanne and her husband, David. They lived in the Bay Area of San Francisco. Haight-Ashbury was hot, Janis Joplin was still singing, and the Berkeley Barb newspaper was the nexus between free speech and free sex.

We, of course, were not part of that scene. My sister was a librarian in South San Francisco and my brother-in-law was in architectural sales for a major corporation. In a nod to popular culture, she wore mini-skirts. He sported long sideburns and ties wide enough to conceal the starched button-down underneath.

(Photo courtesy of NASA)

I had just finished a year of teaching and was taking time to think about the future and where I wanted to spend it. Most days, I hitched a ride into the city with David to explore museums, restaurants, and historic sites, while also observing the strange counter-culture of hippies, Hara Krishna, and flower children of all ages.

As a freshman in high school back in 1961, I was starry-eyed when President Kennedy publicly introduced the idea of the USA landing on the moon. It was just six weeks after USSR’s Yuri Gagarin became the first human to reach space, and the ambitious goal seemed romantic, like something out of a storybook. I had no doubt that our handsome, vibrant president and the brilliant people he attracted could get it done, and we would live happily ever after as a result.

But then came the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Kennedy Assassination, the acceleration of the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, and more assassinations – Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy. What good was going to the moon when the earth was on fire with turmoil at home and war in Southeast Asia?

July 20, 1969 was a Sunday, and it was around 8 pm pacific time when Apollo landed. The way I remember it, I was taking a nap, and it was David who woke me up when Neil Armstrong was ready to walk on the moon. I remember him saying something like, “You don’t want to miss this.”

He had set up a camera in front of their color TV to capture the moment, and I did watch. He was right. Why sleep through history in the making?

Just tonight, watching an interview with Michael Collins – who piloted the mother ship while Armstrong and Aldrin descended to the moon’s surface – I was touched by Collins’ memories of the voyage. He had no regret about not stepping foot on the moon. His job was of vital importance to the mission. If everything went as expected, Collins was the one who would bring them all back to earth, safe and sound. If not, he would make the journey alone.

As they began the home-bound trek, crew intact, Collins recalls looking back to earth from the vast universe. “The moon was nothing compared to the earth,” he said, and he was right.

Today there is talk about going back to the moon and then on to Mars. Reflecting on the words of Michael Collins, however, I agree with his sentiment. Leaving footprints and earth-generated litter on the moon seems trivial in comparison to what needs to be done right here. Claiming parts of the universe for ourselves creates the grim inevitability of waging war on a new front.

If we want to make more history, how about doing it by setting big goals and working together to create a better world, one small step at a time?

For more information about the moon landing, visit www.cnet.com.

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Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray. She can be reached at calexander9@murraystate.edu. Or visit www.constancealexander.com.

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One Comment

  1. Anne Adams says:

    As always, my friend, excellent!!

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